Rainforest Foundation US Wins $2 Million US Government Grant

October 27, 2021

Josh Lichtenstein: gro.y1719225583nffr@1719225583niets1719225583nethc1719225583ilj1719225583
Maryka Paquette: gro.y1719225583nffr@1719225583etteu1719225583qapm1719225583

New York, USA  Rainforest Foundation US (RFUS) and the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB or simply ‘Alliance’) were awarded a $2 million grant by the United States federal government on September 28, 2021. The project funded under the grant, called the B’atz Regional Institutional Strengthening Project, or just “B’atz”, will go towards bolstering critical indigenous peoples’ and local community organizations throughout Mexico and Central America.

The award, which is managed by the United States Agency for International Development’s Mission in Guatemala, will amongst other things:

  • support the establishment of AMPB as a legal entity, ensuring it has standing in the courts;
  • set the Mesoamerican Territorial Fund (FTM) in motion, creating a centralized system to channel finance to indigenous communities region-wide;
  • bolster the Women’s Coordination mechanism, which focuses on the rights of indigenous women;
  • and strengthen the Mesoamerican Leadership School, which trains indigenous leaders to be better equipped to negotiate with public and private entities who wish to access their lands and natural resources.

“Direct financing to indigenous peoples is a historical demand of ours,” relates Sara Omi Casama, an indigenous Emberá from Panamá and President of the Women’s Coordination of AMPB. “One of the main conditions of different financing mechanisms is having established capacity to handle funds at the territorial level—this requirement does not favor communities. The AMPB approach to this project, generated through a co-creation process with RFUS, is an opportunity to strengthen capacities and learning so that indigenous peoples’ organizations can, in the medium term, be direct partners of USAID and other financial mechanisms. We appreciate the respectful technical accompaniment of our ally, Rainforest Foundation US, through the whole process of co-creating this project together.”

AMPB is an alliance made up of indigenous peoples’ organizations that manage their territories in the major forested areas throughout Central America, including in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. There are approximately 24 million indigenous people living in Central America, or a little less than the total population of Australia. Protecting rainforests is integral in the fight against climate change, and indigenous peoples have consistently shown themselves to be amongst the most effective defenders of these forests. More than 60% of the forests of Central America are located on formally recognized indigenous peoples’ or community lands—far higher than any other region in the world. But the region’s indigenous people continue to suffer disproportionate levels of hardship, hampering their ability to stand up against the drivers of deforestation. Strengthening indigenous peoples’ organizations and networks are crucial to changing that equation.

By strengthening AMPB’s Technical Secretariat, this grant will help the Alliance register as a legal entity, allowing it to better provide support to national-level indigenous leaders under threat—a problem that pervades the indigenous rights movement in Central America. The Alliance is a regional social movement, but because it currently lacks legal recognition it is limited in the ways it can represent its base. The Technical Secretariat will also enhance the Alliance’s project management and monitoring capacities, allowing the organization to better evaluate where their efforts are succeeding and failing.

For the purpose of launching the territorial fund, AMPB will hire four new personnel who will help create a system to rapidly deploy direct financing to indigenous forest communities where progress can be effectively made in the fight against deforestation and climate change. And because of its wide purview, the fund stands to add new avenues for financing indigenous communities in Central America by potentially attracting collaborative alliances with the private sector and bolstering relationships with national and international agencies.

At the Mesoamerican Leadership School, the grant allows for three new teachers to be hired for the education of indigenous youth in communities in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of these courses will be centered on improving the effectiveness of grassroots advocacy and adding new methodologies for negotiation as part of a training curriculum developed in conjunction with Conservation International and Oxfam International.

“Historically, grassroots advocacy methodologies have mostly been limited to ‘protest’ and ‘denunciation,’” explains Josh Lichtenstein, Program Manager for Rainforest Foundation US. “The school’s negotiation courses will build the skills of indigenous youth around how to maximize a community’s leverage when facing down large multinationals.”

Through this grant, Rainforest Foundation US will expand our work into Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua for the first time, and return to Guatemala after a few years’ absence. Funding is released as milestones are reached.

Rainforest Foundation US was founded 30 years ago to promote the rights of indigenous peoples living in the rainforest and to support them and other forest communities in their effort to protect and defend their territories.


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Didier Devers
Chief of Party – USAID Guatemala

Didier has been coordinating the USAID-funded B’atz project since joining Rainforest Foundation US in April 2022. He holds a Master’s in Applied Anthropology and a Bachelor’s in Geography. Before joining the organization, Didier worked for 12 years in Central and South America on issues of transparency, legality, governance, and managing stakeholders’ processes in the environmental sector. Prior to that he worked on similar issues in Central Africa. He speaks French, Spanish, and English, and is based in Guatemala.